How Retailers Can Master the Post-Purchase Part of the Ecommerce Journey

Creating long-term loyal customers

a woman ordering things online and the image showing what happens next
A shopping experience needs to last past purchasing an item. Getty Images

Retailers have spent the last year obsessing over each touchpoint consumers have with their brand, all with the goal of creating a differentiated, amazing customer experience. But what I often see is that all roads lead to clicking “buy,” the holy grail of the customer experience. Put another way, many merchants still believe their job ends with a transaction, which is a short-sighted way of thinking.

When the cart converts, a retailer’s job has just begun. The post-purchase journey, or last mile of commerce, is equally as critical to the entire customer lifecycle as what happens before a purchase. To create meaningful, trusting and lasting relationships with shoppers, retailers must continue to deliver a delightful and memorable experience well beyond the order confirmation.

Here are three ways to create an exceptional post-purchase journey that drives long-term customer loyalty, differentiates your brand and even reduces overhead costs.

Transparent, proactive communication goes a long way

To create meaningful, trusting and lasting relationships with shoppers, retailers must continue to deliver a delightful and memorable experience well beyond the order confirmation.

Shoppers want peace of mind when their product is on the way. Merchants already understand the importance of acknowledging a purchase and sharing a tracking number, but a whopping 82 percent of consumers express that it’s important to proactively communicate at every single step of the delivery process. Even before they buy, consumers want accurate, upfront delivery communication, and they expect that to continue throughout each step of the checkout process.

Post-transactional communication should go above and beyond the cookie-cutter template of, “Thanks, here is when your order should arrive.” Engagement should be personal, clear and transparent, providing expected delivery dates, time slots, shipping updates and real-time tracking of a product. Retailers should provide flexible communication options that span channels as well as enable the consumer to change their preferred delivery time or delivery location on the fly.

Customers are anxious and eager for their purchase and these updates can go a long way in increasing trust in your brand. Proactive and transparent communication across the entire fulfillment and delivery process are critical to prolonging the lifecycle of a customer and contributing to an overall positive customer experience.

When customers choose, you win

Most customers expect fast delivery at a low cost. But when placed in the context of a stellar end-to-end customer experience, speed becomes less critical.

When you can’t match speed, provide options. Options convert more shoppers both online and in-store, allowing them to choose preferred speed, price and effort in retrieving their purchase. Over half of shoppers are interested in an alternate pickup location with extended hours and lower fees, and according to one study, already 30 percent of online orders are delivered to alternate locations. Click and collect methods such as the buy online, pick up in-store model, allow customers to retrieve goods faster and at a lower cost than traditional ground shipping, with the added benefit of driving traffic to a store. The Wall Street Journal found that 50 percent of shoppers prefer in-store pickup and 45 percent of those shoppers purchased something else while in-store.

Retailers should explore partnering with third parties such as UPS or USPS to provide pickup options or work with companies like Parcel Pending to install pick-up lockers in storefronts or at a nearby property. For city dwellers without secure access, these options are often faster, convenient and less of a risk than traditional home delivery.

Technology is driving post-purchase innovation

According to McKinsey, the last-mile delivery costs $86 billion each year, and that will continue to grow as shoppers increasingly prefer same-day delivery. Delivery with autonomous vehicles, drones and remote access technologies promise to democratize instant delivery for merchants of all sizes, and while they may seem light years away, some estimates suggest that these technologies will be commonplace in as little as 10 years.

Today’s autonomous vehicles, once deployed, are surprisingly cost-effective, making instant delivery at scale a reality. Many brands are leveraging these to deliver products at a lower cost in certain regions.

Remote access can also help certain industries deliver goods more efficiently and at a lower cost. Amazon Key is the most popular, delivering goods securely without the dependency of the customer being at home. And this is only the beginning: Imagine dry cleaning delivered to the trunk of a parked car or a grocer delivering ice cream to your freezer.

There are many logistical and regulatory hurdles before all merchants can take advantage, but now is the time to start laying the groundwork internally at your company. Retailers are encouraged to find a partner who is trialing in your area to learn about the potential challenges.

Those who experiment with new methods and technologies will come out ahead of the competition, driving an experience that’s more personal and satisfying. When experience matters most, the traditional commerce experience diffuses into what happens long after a purchase. It’s often the last chance for retailers to turn a one-off purchase into a lifelong loyal customer.

@peter_sheldon Peter Sheldon leads corporate strategy and business development for Magento.